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John’s Horror Corner: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

May 28, 2012

MY CALL:  The trailer looked promising, but the product delivered only disappointment.  Even devout horror and suspense fans will be disappointed as this movie delivers neither enough or effectively. [D]  WHAT TO WATCH INSTEAD?  Grave Encounters, the Paranormal Activity series and White Noise deliver the creepy suspense desired in this flick.  For hungry mutant redneck whatevers aim for The Cabin in the Woods, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series or Wrong Turn.  For suspense and blood and guts galore mixed with a lot of funny: Final Destination 5.

I guess it was about time somebody capitalized on the horrors left in the wake of this historical event: Chernobyl, named after the city with the poor nuclear reactor of the same name.  On April 26th, 1986, the Ukrainian power plant had a bit of a bad day when reactor 4 was getting a bit wonky from a power surge.  What ensued was an emergency shutdown attempt, a series of explosions, the fall of the Soviet economy, and ultimately (evidently) some tribal-gone-cannibal locals in the neighboring town waiting to prey on 20-something tourists.  CLICK HERE to see the trailer.

The tour guide is charmingly funny.  He has his little Geiger counter and puts on a nice show.

The trailer doesn’t show us a whole lot in terms of estimating what kind of horror this will be.  Really, we see just enough to know that the acting doesn’t suck (actually it looks quite good…for a horror flick) and the production value is competitive.  I’ll go so far as to say that an unusually good job was done building the plot up to the “extreme tourism” trip to Chernobyl.   I liked the characters (enough, at least) and enjoyed a few clever, light-hearted laughs.  Jonathan Sadowski (S%#! My Dad Says (2010-2011), Friday the 13th (2009)) is charmingly funny and he brings that to the screen here early in the movie.  Characters like his are typically fun to watch when the shit hits the fan.  Makes me think of Grave Encounters (2011), where the jokester finds himself freaking out as he learns “it’s not a joke.”  This flick also features Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek, Snakes on a Plane), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (The ABCs of Death, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), Olivia Dudley (Chillerama, The Dictator), and Jesse McCartney (Greek).

Yes, sure, the apartment is small.  But the location!

What do you mean the car won’t start?

Such a lively bunch.  They have no idea…

Though a bit prepackaged—a la Wrong Turn past the Cabin in the Woods where the Hills Have Eyes—the premise worked and the creepy setting created the opportunity for some great scenes.  Just the opportunity, though.  While the set design worked, the crux of the movie (i.e., the anthropophagous mutants), was poorly delivered.  Sadly, there are really no special effects at all in this movie.  That is not to say they are bad, but that the way the “action” and “horror” are presented no effects are really necessary.  Now, horror movies can vary.  Depending on the style they may not need any CGI or fake blood (e.g., Paranormal Activity had minimal FX).  Contrarily, movies in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vein rely heavily on excellent make-up artists and mutant movies need solid mutant concepts that keep us from saying “hey that’s just like in that other movie with that guy in it that came out last year.”  Well, this was a mutant movie, and no one in the audience could pick one of these mutants out of a line up after seeing this movie.  That’s how little you see.  Bummer.

It says WHAT about mutant Chernobyl residents in the guide book!?!?!

Producer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity director/producer; PA 2 and PA 3 producer) has a great mind for creepy suspense.  I think he was going for a monsters-driven quite creeper; the reason we never really see more than blurry silhouettes of the flesh-eating antagonists.  This general mystery tactic worked in Insidious (2010), when the creature was some other-worldly specter.  But this movie was advertised as suggestive of The Hills Have Eyes in an abandoned fallout city.  Maybe there was a way to make this work, but Peli didn’t find it.

Everyone knows that you never–NEVER–approach the weird little girl in the dark!

I haven’t really addressed the plot…there’s not much to say that you don’t get from watching the trailer.  Some likeable 20-somethings on a European vacation decide to take an extreme tourism excursion to a village in sight of Chernobyl.  When they try to leave the car doesn’t start.  Then they start dying one by one—and you never see it happen!  The escape strategy never gets anyway, the characters (not surprisingly) don’t develop beyond a few cheap lines of dialogue, and there’s an inexplicably stupid not-so-twisty ending.

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